Daily Mail switches saboteurs label from Remainers to hard Brexiteers: could this bring a 'Dacre detox dividend'?

Adam Lusher

In a dim and distant Golden Age, the people of Middle England knew where they stood: they knew what was right, what was wrong and who the saboteurs were.

But nearly three whole months have passed since then. The sands of time have eroded the old certainties and now, for readers of the Daily Mail, the saboteurs are a different group altogether.

Under the helm of editor Paul Dacre they were told the saboteurs were the “game-playing remoaners” who would be “crushed” by “the new Iron Lady” Theresa May.

“Crush the saboteurs”, cried the front page on 19 April 2017, as the Mail cheered on the PM’s plan to call the bluff of the “‘game-playing’ Remoaners’” in a snap election which didn’t exactly turn out as Ms May, or Mr Dacre, expected.

But two and a half long months after Mr Dacre vacated the editor’s chair, it seems the saboteurs are now the “preening Brexiteers”.

Daily Mail, April 19 2017

Under the new stewardship of pro-Remain editor Geordie Greig, the newspaper chose on Friday to respond to the chaos descending on Ms May’s attempts at Brexit by telling readers: “As preening Tory saboteurs undermine the PM, their party, Brexit – and Britain’s future – the Mail asks simply …. Have they lost the plot?”

“Brexiteers plotting to topple Theresa May faced a ferocious Tory backlash last night,” said the news story, as the front page editorial denounced “the peacocking saboteurs”

Daily Mail, November 16 2018

The old king had warned of what might happen should there be even a hint of cooling ardour for Brexit at the Daily Mail. As he prepared to step down, Mr Dacre wrote an article in The Spectator that many chose to interpret as a not-so-coded warning to his successor Mr Greig.

"Support for Brexit," he wrote, "Is in the DNA of both the Daily Mail and, more pertinently, its readers. Any move to reverse this would be editorial and commercial suicide.”

Supportive readers of Friday’s front page could, of course, point out that for all the difference in who gets called a saboteur these days, there has been no shifting of support for Theresa May and her efforts to achieve Brexit, and no change in the paper’s opposition to the no-deal option.

But that didn’t stop some in the old-guard readership taking to Twitter to complain that the paper was “Basically turning into The Guardian" – even though they probably can’t expect to see Polly Toynbee’s column appearing in the Mail any time soon.

So what of the foretold commercial suicide? A senior executive, who declined to be named, spoke of the possibility that there may even be a “Dacre detox dividend”, adding that the idea of the old editor having had a “unique and magical connection with Middle England” has been exposed already.

One news media specialist, who asked not to be named, said: “There has certainly not been a catastrophic collapse in circulation so far following Dacre’s departure as Mail editor and an apparent softening of the paper’s Brexit stance under Greig.”

The latest ABCs show its circulation at 1.23m copies a day in October, which is down from August (1.27m) and September (1.25m), but this is the shrinking print market after all, and the Mail is quick to point out that its market share is up.

The company’s press release states that the Saturday edition is in particularly rude health, out-selling even The Sun by more than 234,000 copies, and that the paper had “increased its share of Monday to Friday sales to a record 24.1 per cent”.

In the endless debate as to whether the news media reflect the views of their readers or lead their political opinions, it may be that the people of Middle England aren’t all furious Brexit die-hards after all. Time will tell, and the influence of the mighty Mail, and its new tone, should perhaps not be underestimated.

As for Mr Greig, well, he’s “delighted,” according to the press release. Of course: there was a time when Tony Gallagher, now editor of The Sun and once deputy to Dacre, was favourite for the Mail job himself.